Sun and Water Safety

We finally got a taste of some warm weather which means it’s time to starting thinking about summer activities. Most people enjoy a good day in the sun. Whether it’s lounging by the water , participating in sports or working outdoors, we all get our fair share of sun every summer. This week, I want to briefly review some sun and water safety tips.

Sun and water safety are key things to be aware of as you venture outdoors. Everyone knows you can get a burn if you’re out in the sun too long. However, many people don’t realize that you can still get a burn in the shade or on a cloudy day. Ultraviolet rays come in two forms: UVA and UVB. UVA accelerates aging of the skin, while both UVA and UVB can cause skin cancer.

Sunscreen lotions work by absorbing the UV rays before they penetrate your skin and cause damage. They can be effective, but only if used properly. Dermatologists will all tell you it’s safer and more effective to use physical blocking agents like sun-protective clothing and wide-brimmed hats.

Sunscreens are rated using the “SPF” scale. Don’t bother with lotions with an SPF below 15. An SPF of 15 hypothetically allows you to stay in the sun 15 times longer before you burn. However, the effectiveness does not last near that long since the lotion usually wears off from sweating, swimming, or friction. Sunscreens should be applied liberally before going out in the sun (at least 2-3 Tablespoons per application). They also need to be re-applied at least every two hours. It’s important to get a broad-spectrum lotion that absorbs UVA and UVB. You should also use lip balm containing sunscreen.

There was a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association a couple of years ago that raised some concerns about four chemicals found in sunscreens: avobenzene, oxybenzone, ecamsule , and octocrylene. The chemicals, particularly oxybenzone, were found in the blood of the 24 study participants after applying the agents to 75 percent of their bodies four times a day for 4 days. The amounts applied in the study were about twice what would be considered normal in the real world. The FDA is requiring safety testing to determine if the increased levels have any adverse health effects. Current thinking is that the risk of sun damage to the skin is much higher than any health effects from these chemicals in the bloodstream.

Try to minimize sun exposure between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the intensity of ultraviolet radiation is highest. Sunburns suffered in childhood are a major risk factor for skin cancer later in life so model good behavior and teach your kids the importance of protecting themselves. Regular use of sunscreen in kids can lower their risk of skin cancer by around 75 percent.

Don’t forget your sunglasses! While most folks apply sunscreen to their skin, they forget to protect their eyes. Ultraviolet radiation can cause damage to the lenses in your eyes leading to the development of cataracts. Be sure and read the tag on the glasses to make sure they’re rated to block 99 to 100 percent of both UVA and UVB rays. Wraparound glasses are the most effective.

If you’re in the sun, water often isn’t too far away. An estimated 260 children under age five drown each year in residential swimming pools and spas. Another 3,000 are treated in emergency rooms for submersion accidents that often lead to permanent brain damage. Nationally, drowning is the fourth leading cause of death in children under five.

If you have young children, you must NEVER leave them alone near a pool or in the care of an older child. It only takes a brief lapse in supervision to result in tragedy. Although most communities require only an automatic pool cover for safety purposes, you should also include a fence around the pool that has self-closing gates that is at least four feet high. If your kids are visiting a friend’s pool, make sure the adults understand your kids are not to be left alone near the water. While swim lessons are advisable, they do not decrease the risk of drowning in kids under four. Flotation devices and swim lessons are not a substitute for adult supervision.

Rescue equipment, including a life preserver and shepherd’s hook, should be kept near your pool. Have a cell phone or portable phone by the pool so you don’t have to go inside and leave kids unattended. Know CPR and consider taking a lifesaving class if you own a pool.

When boating, skiing or tubing, always wear a personal floatation device (life jacket) approved by the U.S. Coast Guard. Remember that alcohol and boating don’t mix. Half of all drownings are caused by boating accidents involving alcohol. If you must rescue someone in the water, don’t become a victim yourself. Always remember the saying, “reach, throw, row, go.” Try to first reach the person with an object. If you can’t, throw something to them or maneuver a boat to them. Finally, as an absolute last resort, enter the water to try and reach them.

– Dr. John Roberts is a member of the Franciscan Physician Network specializing in Family Medicine.